Land sales and disposals

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at people who have concerns that the council did not follow the correct procedures when disposing of some land and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

I am unhappy about the council’s decision to sell or dispose of land or buildings; or about the way it went about such a sale or disposal. Can the Ombudsman help me?

Yes, in some circumstances. Councils have the right to dispose of their assets (such as land or buildings), and they have fairly wide discretion to do this in any manner they wish. Generally they have to obtain the best price they can for those assets. 

The Ombudsman cannot question councils’ legal right to sell or otherwise dispose of land, or question the merits of their decisions about whether and how to do it. We can look into complaints about administrative fault in the decision-making process. 

But we would not usually investigate complaints that a council has been ‘wasting public money’ or ‘could have obtained a higher price’ - the person complaining needs to show that he or she has been personally affected by the matter. 

How do I complain?

You should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.

Then, if you are unhappy with the outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – we think 12 weeks is reasonable – you can complain to us.

You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.

For more information on how to complain, visit our contact page or complete an online complaint form.

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

We consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it dealt with the sale or disposal of its assets and whether this has affected you adversely. Some of the issues we might be able to look at are if the council:

  • goes back on its agreement to sell or lease land or property that it owns
  • gives you misleading or inaccurate information about the land or buildings that it is selling or disposing of
  • fails to carry out any necessary consultation with those affected by the sale
  • delays unreasonably in disposing of derelict property, or
  • fails to follow its procedures, or has no procedures, for disposing of land.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault?

It depends on what went wrong and how that affected you. If we find that something has gone wrong, we can ask the council to:

  • take action to put the matter right
  • pay compensation for any financial loss, or
  • review or improve its procedures to make sure the same problems do not happen in future.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mr A complained that the council took too long to dispose of a derelict property that it owned next door, failed to keep it secure from trespassers, and failed to maintain trees along the boundary. We found that the council had failed to give priority to disposing of the property, and the sale had been delayed unreasonably. Mr A and his family had suffered more nuisance and worry than they need have done. The council agreed that it had been at fault, and marketed the property quickly, did work to the trees, paid Mr A £500, and started a review of its procedures for disposing of residential properties.
Ms D complained that the council decided to lease land to a developer without consulting the relevant Community Partnership and that the report to the cabinet was misleading in that it falsely stated that consultation had taken place. We found that the council was at fault but the injustice caused by its failure to consult the Community Partnership had already been remedied as the decision to grant the lease had been overturned. The Ombudsman did not consider that an investigation was warranted in circumstances where the council has already provided a reasonable remedy.
Mr and Mrs C complained that the council had failed to consult them before it sold to their neighbours a plot of land which they had cultivated for many years. We found that if Mr and Mrs C had been consulted, they would have asked to buy the land themselves, and would probably have been successful. The council had also failed properly to deal with their complaint about the matter. We recommended that the council should pay them £1,000.

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman provides a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result the Ombudsman aims to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

March 2013